Reiki: The Five Precepts (Gokai – 五 戒) – 1st Precept: Peace

Just for today:
Don’t hold on to anger
Don’t focus on worry
Honor all those who came before
Work hard on self-improvement
Be kind to all living things
– Reiki Center App, Windows Phone

– My shortened mantra of the precepts

In this post, I focus only on the first of the five precepts. I spoke about “Just for today/Now” in my “Precursor” post. I recommend reading that post before reading further if you haven’t already. That post sets up the background for the discussions of all the precepts. Just for today (Now) is the injunction that stands before all the precepts and applies to all of them.

We should recall that Usui-sama, the writer of the precepts, was a Tendai Buddhist priest. This is important, as I would say that the first precept is the beginning of the Buddhist spiritual path, and the last is its culmination in terms of practice. When I say this, I mean in terms of the Mahayana (the Great Vehicle) tradition of Buddhism, a subset of Buddhism that includes well-known schools such as Zen and Chan Buddhism. This tradition focuses on the way of the Bodhisattva, spiritual warriors who focus their efforts on the liberation of all sentient beings from suffering.

The beginning of practice is cultivating a presence that supersedes the cyclic suffering of samsara (ordinary existence; the counterpart of the enlightened existence of nirvana–an awakened state that overcomes suffering). One of the Buddha’s core teachings is the Three Marks of Existence (also called the Three Seals). They are: impermanence, suffering, and selflessness (Not-I). First of these, impermanence–everything changes. Nothing is static. From a scientific viewpoint, we could state this in terms of the second law of thermodynamics: the tendency for entropy to increase in a system. This means that the heat energy in a system changes over time. This is a law of physics. From these tenets, even atoms will break down trillions of years from now. Even that fundamental building block will change.

In our lives, we face change all the time–the weather, our physical appearance, comings and goings of loved ones, illness, birth, death, and even the basic bodily functions of breathing and our hearts beating from moment to moment. Change causes suffering for us in a couple ways: we go through life in a distracted manner and fall into changes we could have avoided because of this ignorance. With mindfulness, we can be in sync with our environment and flow with it rather than cause distracted changes which are painful. Also, despite the fact that all changes, we cling to things. We try to hold on to what we want and avoid what we don’t want. Most of all, we cling to habits and anything to bolster a sense of a permanently enduring self. We cling to the masterpiece of our creation that is the ego. This clinging to desired permanence and the unmindful engagement of a distracted mind with the world lead to suffering–the second of the Three Marks of Existence.

The third mark is selflessness (Not-I). Its the counterpoint to the clinging of ego. With mindful presence, we can experience phenomena as they are. If we attend to them in such a way, we can see them as impermanent arising. They come into being, grow, flourish, wither, and dissipate. None of them is constant. None of them endures. Noticing this reveals the oneness of all phenomena and their inherent emptiness. We can see that the separation and permanence of “I” is my own confused perception and desire to resist change. Everything, including the “I” of ego, is empty, “self”-less.

This realization leads us to a hidden gem, a fourth mark that is sometimes added–peace; we could call this realization the opening of the gate to nirvana. This peace comes from seeing our place in the world (or better said–seeing the world as it is, not as we want it to be): from actively engaging on the path of liberation beyond suffering. There is much that can be said about this path which would necessitate a deeper discussion of the Four Noble Truths. For that, I suggest reading Chögyam Trungpa’s book: The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation. I’ll focus on the fact that the path is mindful presence, facilitated by regular meditation. This gets us past the three roots of suffering: desire, aversion, and ignorance (think of the comments above about changes we want and don’t want–desire and aversion–as well as the distracted engagement with the world–ignorance).

These considerations about the Four Marks of Existence (Four, rather than three, as we have added Peace as the culmination of the Three Marks), returns us to Usui’s precepts, particularly the first precept: “Don’t hold onto anger” — “Peace“. He is offering a Buddhist meditation. You are asked to mindfully attend to these precepts twice a day while doing “gassho” as per his instructions. You focus on doing them well for today only (or for now in each and every instant). You then attend to not being angry. This is the first step on a Buddhist path to enlightenment. The heart of the Hinayana (the Lesser Vehicle) tradition is not doing harm. To achieve this, anger and pursuing an ego-driven idea of my goals from it are put aside (cognitive psychology shows that anger comes from the obstruction of something we want–think of a traffic jam keeping you from getting where you want to go; in such cases, you act out in anger, and this anger is meant to clear away those obstructions to get things back on the desired path). Not getting angry entails letting go of your own story and opening yourself up to whatever is here right now (even that traffic jam). This is how you do no harm, and this is how you begin working toward compassion, the fifth precept; to realize compassion and to let go of anger, you have to step beyond I, me, and mine. From a different, perhaps more familiar perspective for the standard Reiki student, if you are going to be a conduit for universal energy, surely the first step is opening to it and realizing that there is no separation to begin with: this is also a letting go of “I”, me, mine, my truth, my story, my goals, etc. This letting go of self and opening up to existence is realizing the mark of peace.

Let go of anger. Realize the peace that exists beyond your “self”.

As an after-thought, I thoroughly disagree with the understanding of the first precept in The Spirit of Reiki given by Walter Lübeck . The point is not to harness anger for positive personal ends. Perhaps, you could say the point is to transmute anger into peaceful enlightenment, but it isn’t about “me” and “mine” at all. Quite the opposite. First of all, I think that anger comes from desire, not fear (fear is the opposite of hope, not desire. This is commonly confused, and these are all closely related. I hope for what I desire. I fear that which I do not want to happen. Hope and wanting are closely related as are fear and aversion, but they aren’t quite the same). Overcoming the negativity of anger results in our personal healing, but in taking up a spiritual path, it isn’t about me. It’s about healing everything and realizing that all is more important than I. Here again, the precept of peace points toward the Mahayana method at the heart of the Bodhisattva way: compassion.

May this help you find peace.

Previous Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – Precursor
Next Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 2nd Precept: Faith


Reiki: The Five Precepts (Gokai – 五 戒) – Precursor

The Five Precepts

About a year ago, I delved into Reiki out of sincere interest. My point of entry was the five precepts–Gokai 五 戒–given by Usui-sama to his disciples with the introduction included for their use: “The secret of inviting happiness through many blessings, the spiritual medicine for all illness” (Bronwen and Frans Stiene, “The Japanese Art of Reiki”). The curious thing to note about this is that Usui is speaking of the five precepts of his teachings, not “reiki” itself. Most people I have met with an interest in Reiki completely overlook these five lines of meditation, a simple, yet powerful mantra; they are more interested in the seemingly magical powers of energy healing. They do themselves a great disservice, missing the insightful point of focus for a spiritual path with heart. I have been developing a meditation practice for some time now, and I still find my time meditating on Usui’s precepts to have been one of the most powerful yet simple meditations I have done–beautiful, heartfelt, and moving. It truly can be a spiritual medicine for all illness. Energy healing is effective because of such practices of self-focus rather than doing energy healing instead of/without these practices. This should be remembered, and many New Agers would do well to think on such things.

Usui added as an afterward to the precepts: “Do gassho [the hand position of gratitude and blessing in Buddhism–hands held in front of neck/face with palms together] every morning and evening, keep in your mind and recite” (Steine, The Japanese Art of Reiki”). This is how to utilize the precepts as a regular meditation practice in order to realize the “happiness through many blessings”. This is all meant to improve the mind and body. It is basically a Buddhist meditation from Usui’s background in Tendai Buddhism, and Usui’s Reiki, I would argue, is actually just Kiko, the Japanese form of Qi Gong. I’ve studied some Qi Gong as well as read that Usui was a Kiko master. While writing this, I read one Reiki site’s claims that Kiko expends the practitioner’s stored energy; however, from what I have read by Qi Gong masters and experienced myself, that is a limited view of and detrimental form of Qi Gong  practice. There are Qi Gong practices of acting as a healing conduit of energy for the qi (the very word that the ki in reiki comes from) to flow through to the person needing healing. I mention all this not to cast stones but to get readers to think outside their conceptual boxes. You may just learn something new about your practice that you have taken for granted. Western Reiki practitioners have appropriated this beautiful and mysterious practice and run with it in myriad directions; while this is beautiful in a way, I find it sad how little interest is placed in venerating the roots of this practice and understanding them on their own terms, which with the effort of research and engagement, hold their own surprises and beauties.


With all of this in mind, I’d like to share a couple translations of the precepts along with my own simplified mantra version. I will discuss the opening line of the precepts here, and in five future posts, I will discuss each of the other lines.

The first translation that really grabbed me was in a free app on my phone of all places (the Reiki Center app on Windows Phone)! I still remember it by heart after reciting it hundreds of times:

Just for today
Don’t hold onto anger
Don’t focus on worry
Honor all those who came before
Work hard on self-improvement
Be kind to all living things

I still think this is great. Two points:
1) The third–“Honor all those…”– is an interesting take on a line that usually states something more like “Be grateful”. This is worth a second thought: gratitude should be held for all, including everything and everyone that has brought this moment. In a sense, we might take that as a further examination of cause and effect, the Buddhist concept of karma.
2) “Work hard on self-improvement” used to be a favorite line for me, but the more I work on a spiritual practice, the less I like it. The reason why is because of the self-improvement. I would prefer something that does not emphasize self, as I feel the point of such a practice (a Buddhist practice, of which Usui was a priest) is seeing that all is one and the self is a storied creation. So, “Practice hard”, “Work diligently”, or “Work hard on improvement” would be better.

Here’s another translation for comparison:

For today only:
Do not anger
Do not worry
Be humble
Be honest in your work
Be compassionate to yourself and others

Notice that the same two lines resonate differently here, showing the difficulty in bringing these ideas across from the original Japanese.

I’ve condensed my own simplified version, which I find to be a bit more focused. Bring this to a meditative practice for a comparison of experience between the traditional and the simplified, or bring it to mind if in a painful mood or stressful situation (this shortened version is easier to pull to mind on the fly):


By Faith, I don’t mean the word in some sense of divine delivery, rather the trust in life/the world that negates worry. This turns the traditional precepts around from pushing to negate worry to cultivating the positive state of trust in all. This is not about salvation but about trust and acceptance of the way things are.

By Actualization, I take some points from Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō and turn them in my own way. Actualization here means practicing in a way to manifest/realize things as they are. I’m evoking what I see as the deepest of spiritual practices and calling for action in accordance with it. You could also think of this as wu wei from Taoism, a beautiful concept that I will have to write another post about. I’ve chosen the term “actualization” to move away from “work” which feels heavy and misleading for this meditation. Although, I have nothing against “working hard” nor do I want to suggest that work is not spiritual, I find “work” feels a bit clunky because of other connotations.

Now to the analysis of the opening line:
I’d like to open the following set of five posts by examining “Just for today”. This invocation of the precepts tells us to focus on the practice of these precepts for today without concern of how we have previously done or how we will proceed for years to come. We only have today to practice. This is always true. We cannot count on tomorrow arriving or for us to be in a healthy state to practice then. We live far too much of our lives in this lazy procrastination. Practice today, right now–as this moment and every return of this moment invites us to practice. My shortened version of the line is “Now”. Every moment is now, and every moment can be used for the practice of the precepts. You need not worry about how you have done before or whether you will fail in the next moment, but you should be aware that now is all you have, and there’s no guarantee that you will be capable of taking up your practice later. There’s no time to lose, but such a statement is not something depressing; rather, it’s the greatest, most uplifting opportunity.

May these words benefit all who read them.


Next Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 1st Precept: Peace